Our host, Peter, is a professional online poker player! We spend the day watching him work his 16 tables at a time; taking advantage of his full-feature kitchen to make cookies, bread, and pizza from scratch; and going for a nice evening walk in the lush countryside.
Today we're biking to Monteverde with Peter! All of us are excited for an adventure. We wake up at 5:30 and manage to leave by 6:30. At first we have to ride a stretch of rough gravel, but then the road turns into pavement. The pavement continues longer than we expect. We are all grateful for the smooth riding but it is still tough going with extremely steep uphills and intense winds. We bike up to a set of windmills, and then go up past them. The rolling countryside and Lake Arenal stretch out below us, slowly getting smaller and smaller.
After 17 km or so the road turns to rough gravel. The huge rock pieces, and howling winds that throw us off balance and swirl dust into our faces make riding next to impossible on our bikes. We want to continue but realize that the smarter decision is to turn back. Peter continues with his far more suitable mountain bike.
Back we go to Peter's house. Once there we repack our things into backpacks and head into town to catch a bus. We need to go to the next town (Tilaran) to catch a bus to Monteverde, but we find out that the bus that leaves from here (Tronadora) won't get there in time. Instead we take a cheap taxi. Once in Tilaran we have some time to kill waiting for the bus, so we decide to see if we can hitchhike. We stand on the side of the road for a while and no one stops. Just as we're about to head back to get the bus, a friendly guy named Jorge stops to give us a ride. Jorge has lived in Monteverde his whole life and is super friendly. He tells us all about his family, business, and a bit of Monteverde history. Apparently the roads are unpaved because, a while back, a coalition of hotels got together to block any paving initiatives because they wanted people to be so tired from driving that they had to stay the night. Now however, with the increase in tourism, many locals support paving the roads because it would lead to an increase in business. Looking at the current road conditions, we are both very glad we didn't ride our bikes, and feel a bit sorry for Peter. Even with a mountain bike, riding on coarse, loose, potholed gravel is no fun.
We arrive in Santa Elena, the town next to the Monteverde Reserve, and find Peter just having arrived as well. Great timing! We take advantage of the afternoon to hike around and explore town. We walk a short trail past huge strangler fig trees, visit a beautiful art gallery, and look unsuccessfully for sloths.
Strangler figs develop using another tree as a host, then they slowly take over and kill the host tree, which decomposes and leaves the huge fig standing but hollow.
The reserve officially opens at 7AM, but we know that the birds wake up much earlier than that! We get up at 5 and are in the parking lot of the reserve, an open dirt expanse, by 5:30. The morning is frigid and rainy; we're in the clouds. But in one hour of bird watching we see 8 new species and not a single other human! We are able to see all the birds very clearly because they are out and about and very active at this hour. Some are sitting on the wires and signs, others wandering along the ground. At one point a dog sized animal runs out across the parking lot. But wait, it's not a dog! We think it may have been a white-nosed coati.
Cloud forest parking lot
Once the reserve opens we each pay $14 to go hike the trails. It is magical listening to all the birds singing. The forest is thick with greenery and song. Unfortunately, it's so thick that we can't see many of the birds; the parking lot was actually a much better place for birdwatching.
But there are more than just birds to discover. We see huge scaly millipedes, a big black beetle with three-pronged yellow antennae, and a swarm of army ants. The plant life is a bit overwhelming. Even "dead" logs can hardly be called that; they are teeming with life: ferns, mosses, bromeliads. Any shape you can imagine, there is a leaf with that shape in this forest. I especially like the tree ferns, which are essentially 30ft high ferns.
Trees growing from a dead log
We walk almost every trail, reaching a viewpoint where we can see Volcan Arenal and miles of untouched, preserved cloud forest. Simply amazing! Later on, we climb a metal tower which rewards us with an even better view. From the top we can see Lake Arenal and both volcanos, Arenal and Cerro Chato.
We've been at the reserve for more than 7 hours when we return to the visitors center to take the shuttle to town.
Back at our hostel we have some lunch then get our stuff ready to go. Peter starts biking and we go stand out by the side of the road to see if we can hitchhike. The only bus going where we want to go leaves tomorrow morning, and we would rather stay at Peter's house tonight than pay for another expensive room in this touristy town. After an hour or so of waiting, things aren't looking good. We hop on a passing bus going in the direction that we want to go. Unfortunately, the bus takes a road different than the one we thought it would! We are now going completely in the wrong direction. Checking our map frequently, we're able to get off at an intersection close to where we had wanted to go.
We still have almost 30 km to go to Tilaran, so we start to hike. Hopefully someone will pick us up even though there is little to no traffic on this road. We hike, and hike, and hike some more. We are starting to think that we're going to need to ask to camp at one of the farms along the road, when a car stops. Meet Romain and Ouidad, an amazing couple from France on their honeymoon! They bring us all the way back to Tronadora, even though it's a little off the route they are taking. We can't thank you guys enough!
As we walk into the main square, we meet Peter, who has just arrived. What timing! We head back to his house and make some delicious dinner. What a day!
It takes a while to get going in the morning, because our stuff is everywhere. Around 10, we say our goodbyes and roll out. It's a beautiful day, windy (as always) but sunny and fresh after the morning rain. Our road takes us up and down steep hills that border Lake Arenal. The topography is challenging, but we're rewarded with spectacular views.
We're not really looking for birds, but we still see lots of toucans and some aracaris (similar to toucans)! Later in the day we run across a big group of white-nosed coatis right on the side of the road. There is little traffic, and as we head away from the lake we both agree that it was one of our favorite rides.
We continue straight towards Volcan Arenal, the top of which only peeks out from the clouds for a brief moment. The traffic picks up as we head into La Fortuna, passing thermal hot springs spas and fancy hotels. My legs are very grateful that the end of our ride today is mostly downhill.
We spend the night in a little town just past La Fortuna. Our Warmshowers host, Esteban, gets home late, but we are still able to spend some time with him and his friend Jose. We are up long past our bedtime eating pasta and sharing stories.
Today is exactly 10 months from when we first started our trip! I can still remember exactly how I felt on that plane ride up to northern Alaska. We end up leaving late in the morning since we're tired from last night.
Before we go, I do a drawing on Esteban's wall. Everyone who has stayed with him has left a note, and it's pretty neat to look at all of them. Thanks again, Esteban, for your hospitality.
Our road takes off through the mountains, and although there isn't much traffic, the endless steep hills make for challenging riding. Even though there's a breeze, it's still hot. We stop at a little fruit stand and each enjoy half a watermelon to cool down. As we start to eat, some loud squawking attracts our attention. Two large scarlet macaws have landed on a tree just down the street. How amazing to see these beautiful birds in the wild!
Even after our break, we're feeling tired and sore. When a guy we meet informs us that it's all uphill to San Ramon we decide to stop early and have a relaxing afternoon to recharge a bit. Right now we're stopped at an inexpensive little hotel with wood cabins in the woods. It's quiet and peaceful. Back on the road tomorrow.